Cell Phones Versus Driving: The Debate of 2012

New Years Eve of 2011 set the scene for more than just one of the year’s largest parties. The National Travel Safety Board used the holiday as a platform to announce their plea to completely ban drivers from interacting with their mobile devices. The move virtually ensured that 2012 would serve as the battleground for a perennially controversial issue: should cell phones and driving cars ever mix?

The pursuit of convenience and instant gratification pervades several aspects of the current social climate, including entertainment, advertising, and — to potentially dangerous effect — transportation as well. Automobiles already simplify and speed up the process of getting from point A to B. But since their inception, cell phones have seemed to accompany the car experience, with both positive and negative consequences.

Experts categorize cell phone use while behind the wheel with other examples of “distracted driving,” such as eating food and fellow passengers. Unlike these other forms of interference, however, cell phone use while driving causes worrisome psychological effects, leading to many an accident and fueling the growing movement to forbid active drivers from handling cell phones.

A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of South Carolina revealed that the most frequent task associated with cell phones, speaking (and mentally preparing to speak as well), significantly reduces the brain’s ability to detect and neutralize distractions, including those encountered on the road.

Researchers also call attention to the specific mental state of teenage drivers who handle cell phones; one such analyst termed this tendency as “instant aging,” referencing the fact that mobile device usage dulls young drivers’ senses to the level of a septuagenarian.

Teen texting while driving-- a big no-no. Courtesy MaximumPC.

Teen texting while driving-- a big no-no. Courtesy MaximumPC.

These findings, coupled with the cogent statistic of 25% of all accidents being caused by such distractions (via the National Traffic and Highway Association), has doubtlessly contributed to a sizable number of states in America against cell phone use while driving.

Nine states prohibit all drivers from handheld phones, including the Virgin Islands, and thirty states bar cell phones from amateur drivers. Interestingly, no state prevents all cell phone usage. Yet in an important distinction, thirty-five states have officially cracked down on a potentially riskier cellular activity in motorists — texting.

Indeed, a separation between general cell phone use and texting should be made, as the latter activity actually poses a much more detrimental threat to automotive safety at large. Car and Driver conducted an experiment to pinpoint exactly how sending a text effect a motorist’s ability to remain focused and alert.

Many found their findings eye-boggling: whereas driving drunk caused drivers to brake about 4 feet longer than when sober, sending a text messaged added a startling 70 feet to the standard time it takes to brake a vehicle.

While a speakerphone may begin to remedy the effects of talking on a cell phone, there is no solid or trustworthy solution to text messaging during the driving experience. Most data assessing the effects of distracted driving fails to provide a specific breakdown as to the percentage of drivers who succumbed to an ill-timed text. Yet many states and official organizations are not biding their time for more precise data to emerge. The launch to exterminate text messaging has ignited to full effect.

In 2011, the State of New York cracked down notoriously hard on texting drivers, where the activity is fully banned, and punished guilty parties with an inundation of nearly 120,000 tickets throughout the year.

AT&T has taken a noble stance with its “It Can Wait” campaign, compelling cell phone users to respect mobile technology by not accessing it when driving. A lengthy documentary entitled “The Last Text” accompanies the movement, highlighting true cases of individuals whose lives were permanently altered (for the worse) by texting.

Singer Jojo supports AT&T’s “It Can Wait.” Via HomoRazzi.

Singer Jojo supports AT&T’s “It Can Wait.” Via HomoRazzi.

Most emphatically of all, Oprah Winfrey has tossed her hat into the no-text-behind-the-wheel ring; her website implores visitors to sign the “No Phone Zone Pledge” and completely abstain from cell phone use once the keys enter the ignition.

So the country has seemingly united in a stance against cell phone use, texting, and falling prey to accident-provoking distracted driving. But those who recall the general and wide-sweeping definition of “distracted driving” have complained that cell phones’ danger has not yet been specified with enough exactitude.

The NTSB has conceded that laws and pledges alone will not sufficiently ebb cell phones’ use, nor are they substitutes for thorough education for drivers. Phone activity and texting’s subsequent potential to cause disasters on the road requires exhaustive educational schemes, a la “It Can Wait,” to help improve drivers’ respect for the road.

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2 Responses to Cell Phones Versus Driving: The Debate of 2012

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